Rocky Reckoning

''The Rocky Horror Picture Show'' is not just a movie, but a wonderful beacon

It must’ve been the summer of 1979, because I remember specifically that people were talking about American Airlines Flight 191. The ill-fated DC-10 lost one of its engines upon takeoff in May of that year, resulting in a catastrophe that killed all 271 people aboard. At least, that’s what the kid with the green Mohawk was talking about.

I fixated on that kid, because he was the only other person in line anywhere near my age. I was 11. It was nearing midnight. And I was somewhere in downtown D.C. with my college-age sister, Megan, and the man she’d later marry, Bob. It fell to them to babysit me as my mother and stepfather went off on their honeymoon. Punk rockers that they were, Megan and Bob figured a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show seemed a good outing.

While standing in line gave me plenty of pre-teen anxiety – my suburban sensibilities viewed this not as an adventure, but an unsettling odyssey – entering the theater had my heart racing. Music blared. The Vapors’ ”Turning Japanese” was definitely part of the lineup. Edgy teens were dancing violently. We found a seat and Megan advised me that there would be a call for virgins to identify themselves. I was not to make any movement. I didn’t realize that in this context a ”virgin” was someone who’d not yet seen the movie. Understandably, my confused freak-out got that much more panicked. ”They’ll know I’m a virgin,” I reasoned. ”I’m 11 years old, for God’s sake. If I’m not a virgin at 11, what sort of scandalous child would that make me?”

I was so grateful when the lights finally dimmed, affording me some bit of anonymity. I could again breathe normally and turn to my mantra: ”It’s just a movie. It’s just a movie.” Oh, no, it’s not.

My young mind – though I’d already been exposed to plenty of porn thanks to Dad’s nightstand – was buried in a sensual onslaught of imagery, music, enthusiasm and toast. And rice and water and playing cards. But, oh that Rocky…. Was Frank-N-Furter a guy? Was he chaining his gorgeous creation to his bed? Oh, my. Were Megan and Bob aware of all this gay content? Are there other gay people in this theater? My mind was spinning, and not just from the live cast spinning the giant, on-screen globe.

But then came the anchor, the scene that I will forever remember as my first moment of man-on-man cinema sex, if only implied. That’s not Janet moving her head down between sleepy Brad’s legs – it’s a ruse! It was Frank all along!

I hadn’t quite arrived at the promised land, but Rocky Horror had just confirmed that at least some people shared my torrid thoughts of sodomy, whether it was writer Richard O’Brien or just some of the eager audience. I already knew there were gay people. Now I had the confirmation I wanted that I would someday be getting up to exactly what I wanted to get up to.

My debt to Rocky Horror does not, however, end there. Fast forward to the dull landscape of Gulf Coast Florida and I’m in high school. My pals and I would often pile into cars and head to the midnight screening at Clearwater Mall. It was at one of those screenings, when I was 17, that I met my very first boyfriend, Mark. He didn’t go to my high school, but he was in the area. Rocky Horror was the beacon for those of us in Dullsville who didn’t merely want to dream it, but to be it, and that brought us both to that midnight movie.

So to Rocky Horror and all those who keep its magic alive, thank you.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.